Imagine this: Jacob suddenly had trouble breathing; he was sweating and feeling chest pain. He collapsed and appeared to be having a heart attack.
If you were present there what would be your reaction? I am sure you wouldn’t just walk away from the place, right? You would at least call the ambulance and try to stay with Jacob until the ambulance arrives and he gets further professional medical help.
If you were a trained physical first aider, you would even start CPR. I am sure not only you, or even I (or anybody else) would have responded in the same manner.
This is how we would respond in the case of a family member, friend, colleague, or even a stranger suffering from a physical health issue. So why is it that when we see symptoms of a mental health crisis, our first reaction is to withdraw? We typically consider behavioural and mental health issues do not require initial support or are too personal for our intervention.
Mental health is a growing problem across the globe and there is a lack of awareness on how to maintain good mental health and well-being. What is even worse is that we have depressing statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) on how many people struggle with a range of mental health illness:
- Depression: 300 million
- Bipolar affective disorder: 60 million
- Schizophrenia and other psychoses: 23 million
- Dementia: 50 million
With so many people suffering from mental health issues, you might be more likely to encounter a person who is experiencing a mental health problem than a person facing a physical emergency.
So when it’s such an alarming situation, why not provide initial support to people facing mental health issues until they get professional medical help? Yes, initial support or first aid to people suffering from a mental health crisis. Awareness needs to be improved about the fact that people facing mental health issues require mental health first aid (MHFA).
The MHFA training was conceptualised in 2000 by Betty Ann Kitchener from Australia and has since spread internationally to more than 25 countries. She founded Mental Health First Aid training in Canberra, together with her husband Anthony Jorm, who is a mental health researcher. Mental health first aid skills can be applied anytime, anywhere, and to anyone in need.
Many countries have initiated a programme on MHFA training and it has now become an international public health programme that aims to increase mental health literacy in society. Most MHFA training stress and use the ALGEE model: Assess risk; Listen non-judgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage professional help; and Encourage informal support.
Over the past 18 years MHFA has undergone extensive evaluation. Mental health first aid is proven to be effective internationally. Peer-reviewed studies published in multiple countries including Australia, where the programme originated, have shown the following evidence for the MHFA programme:
- increased knowledge of signs, symptoms, and risk factors of mental health issues and problems among the individuals trained in the programme
- decreased social distance between MHFAiders and someone with a mental health problem
- reduction in social stigma and mental illness suffererers reporting about their illness
- increase in the confidence of a trained individual to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis
- MHFAiders can identify professional and self-help resources for individuals with a mental health problem
- increased mental wellness among the trained individuals
In 2017 Public Health England announced that a new £15 million programme would be launched to train one million people in basic mental health ‘first aid’ skills over three years. The programme is intended ‘to improve personal resilience and help people recognise and respond effectively to signs of mental illness in others’.
This is an indication that policymakers understand that to conquer mental health problems, MHFA training is essential.
I am aware that mental health first aid is not the answer to tackling mental illness, but it’s a crucial part of it. It definitely helps to prevent the situation from getting worse for those suffering from mental health illness. The more people are trained as MHFAiders, the more awareness there will be about the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in society – and that’s a good place to start!
Inder Kundnani is founder of Invajy. He holds a master’s degree in human resources and a postgraduate degree in engineering. He is an HR manager by profession and a blogger by passion. He writes on mental health, self-help, self-improvement, motivation, inspiration, mindfulness, and success. Inder also adds value to other people’s lives as a mentor and life coach. You can engage with him on Twitter and on his Facebook page.